Written evidence submitted by Professor Jon Shaw, Professor of Transport Geography, University of Plymouth; Dr Helen Fitt, Postdoctoral researcher, Lincoln University; and Dr Angela Curl, Senior Lecturer, University of Otago
Re: e-scooters: pavement nuisance or transport innovation?
Please find below evidence in respect of your enquiry into the above. Following a sabbatical at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch earlier this year, I am working with my colleagues Dr Helen Fitt (Lincoln University) and Dr Angela Curl (University of Otago) to develop a research project focusing upon the use of e-scooters in the UK. In the meantime, I submit on their behalf, and with their full permission, evidence relevant to your inquiry derived from a study they undertook into public attitudes to and use of e-scooters in New Zealand. The full study has not been formally published, although a summary report of the findings can be found here:
It is important to note that the evidence included in this letter was obtained in New Zealand, and thus different cultural norms and expectations will apply. There is sufficient commonality between the UK and New Zealand for the results to have value to your inquiry, although we would point out that roads (and some pavements) tend to be wider, and in Christchurch especially the urban core is less dense following the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. It is important also to be aware that New Zealand law currently forbids e-scooters to be used in cycle lanes. There is not necessarily universal awareness of this restriction, which in any case is under review.
In specific relation to your questions:
Whether the legislation for e-scooters is up to date and appropriate
We leave it to the Committee to determine its view to this question in the context of the evidence gathered, including that presented below.
To what extent e-scooters have positive benefits, for instance relating to congestion and promoting more sustainable forms of transport
This is an important, but complex question. In the New Zealand study of emerging e-scooter use, limited evidence of e-scooters substantially replacing private car travel (one of the main sources of congestion and transport-related environmental impacts) was found. It was also found, however, that e-scooter use changed over time.
The first time a person used an e-scooter, they usually reported using it ‘just for fun’ or that they were ‘trying it out’. As such first e-scooter uses often did not replace a trip that would otherwise have been made by a different mode of transport. In contrast, survey respondents who had used an e-scooter more than once, were more likely to use it to replace a trip that would have been made whether e-scooters were available or not. This means that it may be the case that e-scooter use will replace more car trips as it becomes increasingly embedded in everyday life.
Around half (51%) of survey respondents who had used an e-scooter more than once would have walked if they had not used an e-scooter for their most recent trip. A further 6% would have used a bicycle, skateboard, or e-bike and 7% would not have travelled. So, for 64% of trips, using an e-scooter does not appear to have offered a more environmentally friendly mode of transportation for respondents, and in 57% of cases e-scooter use had replaced more active travel modes.
However, 28% of respondents who had used an e-scooter more than once reported that they would have used a private car or van, motorcycle, ride source vehicle (e.g. Uber), or taxi to make their most recent trip if they had not used an e-scooter. For respondents who have used an e-scooter more than once then, e-scooter use is reducing car use in just over a quarter of cases. (Note that here we are talking about a quarter of e-scooter trips replacing car trips—this does not suggest that a quarter of all car trips could be replaced by e-scooter.)
Further, the results suggest that e-scooters have most potential to replace short distance car trips, of around 3km (just under 2 miles). There were also some differences in the destinations of trips taken by e-scooter and the mode of transport that would otherwise have been used. For example, 29% of trips in the central city would not have been taken if the respondent had not used an e-scooter. This may suggest that e-scooters can support the revitalisation of central cities through new trip generation, although further research would be needed to support this suggestion. In addition, 29% of trips to the central city would otherwise have been undertaken by bicycle and 24% by bus, suggesting considerable replacement of other modes with relatively low negative impacts in terms of congestion and the environment.
E-scooters are sometimes describes as a ‘last-mile’ solution for public transport journeys, allowing people to quickly and easily move between public transport stops or stations and nearby destinations. Half of respondents who had used an e-scooter, had only used it for part of their journey. In 28% of cases, e-scooters were used alongside public transport (bus or train) supporting the idea that e-scooters facilitate public transport connections in some cases. A substantial number of trips also included a walk—which may be the walk to the e-scooter, or may mean that the distance covered by walking can be extended with the support of an e-scooter. E-scooters may also be supporting car-trips (27%), however, for example by allowing people to park more easily further away from a destination and complete the trip by e-scooter. This has drawbacks in that the majority of the trip may still be made by car, but it could help to ease congestion and parking problems in central cities.
Where in the urban environment e-scooters could be used (e.g. road, pavement, cycle lanes), and how this could impact on other road users and pedestrians, including people who have visual impairments or use mobility aids
Survey respondents were asked several questions about e-scooter use in different environments. Over 90% of e-scooter users had ridden on the pavement for at least part of a journey. However, only around half (51%) of users and far fewer (26%) non-users think that the pavement is an appropriate environment to ride an e-scooter. Even when looking specifically at those who have reported using an e-scooter on the pavement, only 59% agreed that this is a suitable environment for e-scooter use. Most respondents thought that cycleways, shared paths, and quiet streets were suitable environments.
This disconnect between where users are riding e-scooters and where they think it is appropriate to do so indicates a lack of suitable environments for e-scooter use in New Zealand cities (we reiterate, e-scooter use is not currently allowed in on-road cycle lanes, but knowledge of this legal restriction appears uneven).
It is also of concern that certain demographic groups may be more resistant to engaging in behaviours that seem socially unacceptable than are others. That is, some people will think that pavements are inappropriate environments for e-scooter use but will ride e-scooters on pavements anyway. Others may be deterred from using an e-scooter if there does not appear to be a suitable environment for doing so. If the group that is deterred from using e-scooters, is also the group that is most deterred from cycling or scootering by the perceived safety risks of being on the road, in traffic, then there may be equity implications from not providing safe and appropriate environments for e-scootering.
The survey also revealed a number of concerns from pavement users (including those with visual impairments or who use mobility aids) about their safety on footpaths. A common theme here was the need to restrict e-scooter speeds to make them safer around other footpath users. Although reducing or restricting e-scooter speeds may (importantly) improve safety, we note that it may also deter people from shifting from single occupancy car use.
When respondents were given an opportunity to reveal their own thoughts on e-scooter use, many concluded that e-scooters travel too quickly to be ideal for use alongside pedestrians, but are too slow and too wobbly for use on roads alongside faster, heavier vehicular traffic. Following on from these comments, a number of respondents commented on the need for more safe intermediate speed environments, specifically designated for the use of transport modes that are faster than walking but slower and less protected than cars. Such environments might be appropriate for bicycle users as well as for the range of new micro-mobility options becoming available including e-scooters but also electric skateboards, wheels, and other new devices.
In summary, the question about where e-scooters should be allowed is tricky for good reasons. It is fundamentally a question about safety and comfort for users of pavements, cycle lanes, and roads, and there is no simple short-term answer that can prioritise safety and comfort for all. E-scooter use may be preferable to car use in terms of environmental sustainability and the impacts of issues like congestion and noise, but at the moment, there is evidence to suggest that there is a lack of suitable spaces for e-scooter use and many of the respondents reported that this results in their using pavements for e-scooter trips, which can threaten the safety and comfort of pedestrians. We are likely to see this issue becoming increasingly prominent as electric micro-mobility options become more numerous and more affordable.
We suggest, rather than devoting our attention entirely to the question of which of our existing spaces is most appropriate for e-scooter use, it is time for a wider conversation about how we designate transport spaces. A distinction between pavement and road has existed in many places for over a century. There are, of course, places where this distinction is less clear: there are shared streets in which space is less demarcated and more evenly shared by users of different transport modes, and there is increasing provision of separated cycle facilities that are distinct from both footpath and road, and there has been the creation of a number of other forms of shared space. However, in many places in New Zealand as well as in the UK, there remain two distinct transport zones: road and pavement. Now, we have the opportunity to reconsider whether this distinction will serve us well as we move into a future that is likely to incorporate a wider range of transport options and associated changing travel patterns and behaviours.
Whether there should be advice or compulsory requirements to use specific safety equipment when using an e-scooter
The survey did not ask for information in relation to this question.
Whether there should be safety and environmental regulation for the build of e-scooters, and what this might entail
This is a topic that was covered to a small extent in the survey. Respondents were asked how confident they felt about a range of tasks associated with riding an e-scooter. Users generally reported fairly high degrees of confidence in some areas of e-scooter operation, including steering, balancing, and controlling the speed of an e-scooter. A particular area of concern, however, was being able to take a hand off the handlebars to indicate a change in direction when riding on the road. A number of users reported that this was either impossible for them, or that they could do it but felt that doing so left them dangerously unstable. Since the time of the survey, new e-scooter models have been introduced in New Zealand with features that enhance stability, including bigger baseboards, fatter wheels, and better suspension. Arguably, electric indicator lights could also be added but as yet have not been. Importantly, if e-scooters are to be allowed on roads, it is essential to ensure that they are designed in a way that enables users to abide by road rules and to move safely in traffic.
In addition, users reported low confidence in their ability to check whether an e-scooter was in good working order before using it. The inclusion of this issue in the survey was, in large part, a response to incidents in which an e-scooter fault had reportedly resulted in a number of users being thrown off moving Lime e-scooters and, in some cases, being hurt. These incidents were widely reported in New Zealand media and prompted one local authority to require Lime to remove the devices from city streets until the issue was remedied.
It is unclear whether as many respondents would have recognised, prior to the extensive (and largely negative) media coverage, their inability to check the condition of an e-scooter before use. However, from a safety policy perspective, it is important to note that where users are unable to adequately judge safety, this is often delegated to regulatory authorities. For example, it is not unusual for government bodies to impose quality standards on vehicles and many jurisdictions impose motor vehicle import standards and regular tests of roadworthiness (such as the WOF in New Zealand, or MOT in the UK). In New Zealand, more recent local authority decisions about awards of licences to operate e-scooter systems also seem to have been influenced by perceptions of the safety credentials the of different models and operator systems.
Based on the results of the survey, we suggest that prior consideration of how to manage a lack of user competency in assessing e-scooter condition and safety would be prudent before allowing new e-scooter schemes to commence.
The experience of other countries where e-scooters are legal on the roads
The evidence above covers this point. In addition there is a small but increasing number of studies on e-scooter use in other countries (e.g. in the USA (Arella and Fang, 2019 in Transport Findings) and in France (Tuncer et al, 2020 in the Journal of Transport Geography) but we leave it to those authors to advance their own findings.
Please do not hesitate to contact any of us should you have any questions.